Panoche was quite an experience! It started hot, and then got hotter. Word is that it ranged anywhere from 100 to 107 on the pavement. Totally insane.
Greg Bloom announced before the race, “We have a follow car. One of you is going to crack today. When that happens we can pick you up. Do not push yourself into heat exhaustion. Pull over and as a reward you get to ride in air conditioned car!” Great announcement, and definitely true.
I rode the race in the E3s. We did the 67 mile race. That means 3.5 hours in the heat. (Perfect for barbequing ribs. That long, and the meat just falls off the bone.)
Normally the crosswind section is where the race shatters. Today though, there was little wind, so it wasn’t hard. Since in the E3s everyone is closely matched, we had the entire field still present at the turnaround. I decided to make a move. This was probably my only good chance. There was one guy off the front about 100 yards. This guy was a hammer, so I decided to bridge to him on the climb just past the turnaround. I made it across, but so did 10 others. This is where I started to feel the first indications of falling apart. Nothing serious; just a slight shortness of breath, and a general feeling of weakness. My real concern was that this was happening with 33 miles left to ride.
The 12 of us started pacelining to keep the field broken apart. After about 5 minutes I couldn’t help out. I was hyperventilating and could feel my heart pounding. What the hell is happening?! I dumped water on my head and shoulders and drank some more. (I had been doing this all day, but needed it again.) I sat in. 15 minutes later, I had a runner’s cramp (you know that stitch in your side). I couldn’t do anything to deal with any attacks. I was just trying to hang on the back and make it home. Then the attacks started in earnest.
The spirit was willing to chase, but the flesh was weak. This is something I had never experienced before. Normally when I crack, my mind makes me WANT to quit. This time I wanted to ride, but just couldn’t. Every time I put power down, my lungs felt shallow, I would have this overwhelming sense of “stop pedaling!” and sometimes I actually did! This is totally out of character for me, but I simply could do nothing more than ride tempo. Within a few attacks 5 guys got away: one off the front, and four chasers.
The remaining 7 guys completely fell apart. One by one people were packing it in. I ended up a solo chaser of the group of four away. They remained about 100 meters in front of me. I kept telling myself, “Just catch them, and you get a free ride home. If you don’t catch them, then you have to ride it all solo.” This was great motivation because by this point I didn’t care that I was going to get a top 10. All I wanted to do was get home.
At the last feed zone, I was within 50 meters of them. Then, one guy looked back and saw me. Just what I didn’t want. The four chatted, decided to work together better, and in no time they were gone. I continued. I had to change my self-talk to keep the legs moving. Luckily, I was eventually caught by two guys. Keith Jordon and Dave Parrish. We were just riding to finish without being caught by anyone else. Dave fell apart and dropped off. Keith and I reluctantly continued. We caught one of four chasers and went by so fast he couldn’t get on. It was just Keith and I going for 5th and 6th.
Keith ran out of water. I had 2 swallows left. We figured we were only a few miles from the finish, so he took one, and I the other. A mile or two later we see the 10k sign. F#@k! F!, F!, F!, F!, F! We both were just hating life at this point, and the last thing we wanted to see was that we had another six miles to go. Six miles might not seem like much, but it felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. When we finally rolled across the finish Keith gave me 5th (what a guy!) and I rode right to the water station!
I drank water, but was feeling sick to my stomach. I drank slowly and went to the car for some much needed air conditioning. I went back to the feed station for a snack and started feeling woozy and a little dizzy. I was in a bad spot. I sat in the shade and recovered to a manageable condition within 15 minutes. Once my faculties returned I noticed that the consensus of the racers was that today was definitely the hardest race this year.